Thursday, October 20, 2011


Four months ago, we bought a used car from a friend, and started discussing the idea of getting personalized license plates.  Of course, lots of good ones were already taken, like "ATOMIC," "ALIENS" and "GEEKS" - which belongs to friends of mine. Others, like "SNIPER" (which one of us really wanted) were deemed "offensive" by the government.

Eventually, we narrowed things down to a choice between "BRAINS" and, if I recall, "ERASED."

Car 54, what is the license plate of the vehicle you've stopped?
No, really, what is it?
Anyway, "BRAINS" won out, and about three months ago, I put in the application for it, along with the fee for personalized plates.  Yesterday, the letter came saying the plates were ready to be picked up, and today, in a quick 13-stop process due to one of the rear mounting screw mechanisms being entirely dysfunctional (Motor Vehicle Registration twice, mechanic twice, Ace Hardware three times, home once, Walmart once, NAPA once, O'Reilly Auto Parts once) that wound up only taking all morning, I got them and installed them.

About 15 seconds after I finally got the rear plate mounted the way I wanted, a lady across the parking lot at Ace asked, "What does that mean?  Is it like a Ph.D or something?"

I told her it could be zombies, or it could be smart people.  She seemed content with that answer, so I didn't have to tell her the truth about what it really means:

Smart Zombies.


Let there be coherent light

And the Adaptive Optics guys said, "Let there be coherent light," and there was coherent light.  And they saw that it was good, and I put my camera outside for fifteen minutes to get some star trails.

Brian Schmidt came to town

My house is in the same town as the offices of Gemini Observatory, a couple miles away.  Since Gemini involves about seven different nations, and has telescopes in two hemispheres, there's an ongoing need for meetings to make sure everything runs smoothly.  One such meeting of some board or another just took place here.

Normally, these meetings go more or less unnoticed by the public.  A bunch of "famous" astronomers (famous within the field of astronomy, basically unknown to everyone else) fly in from the partner countries, discuss whatever, and then fly back out.  If they do a little sightseeing, no one notices; astronomers look remarkably like all the human tourists.

This time, however, board member Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University had the good fortune to be one of three winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics, just a few weeks before the board meeting.  Plans had already been made, so Gemini jumped at the opportunity to have him give a talk before flying back out.

And so it was that in a large, packed room in the UH-Hilo campus center, a professor born in Montana, educated in Arizona and Massachusetts, who wound up in Australia by way of Alaska, gave his first public talk since being named a Nobel winner.  Funny how things work out like that.

I went, took a friend, recorded audio of it all for my wife, took a bunch of pictures, and even got a chance to say hi to Dr. Schmidt afterwards and let him know I'm in a collaboration with one of his co-winners.  Forgot to mention that I've also operated for someone who works with the third co-winner, Adam Reiss.  Oh well, next time!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Academia has its perks.

 For the last seven years, I've worked for state universities and national research institutions. My jobs have had their pros and cons - every job does, after all.  One definite benefit has been academic pricing on software.  $199 for Photoshop or InDesign (academic price) is certainly a lot better than the list price of $699 each.  And $399 for the Creative Suite that contains both plus Acrobat Pro and some other goodies isn't half bad, either.

That said, it's hard to beat free.

One of the universities I'm affiliated with recently figured out that when you have 35,000 students and several thousand faculty and staff, a lot of those people are going to need something or other from the Creative Suite.  And if you're a software company, anybody that comes to you wanting 40,000 or so licenses is likely to get your attention.

So I just downloaded Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection, and got a license key... for free.  Compare to the retail list price of $2,599.  

Of course, out of the dozen or so things the Master Collection includes, I still only want Photoshop, InDesign and Acrobat Pro, but oh well.  It'll be interesting to see whether other universities do similar things.  And since this site-license was part of a plan by the university to make sure that everyone had access to software they were likely to need, I'm hoping Microsoft Office 2011 will come my way, too. :)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Volunteer Dinner 2011

This Saturday evening, I attended the annual Mauna Kea Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at Hale Pohaku (2,800 meters up Mauna Kea).  Picked up some goodies, a new hat with my name on it (and "100 Hours" since I volunteered at least 100, but less than 250, hours in the last fiscal year), and things like that.

Congrats to Josh Walawender for winning Volunteer of the Year, to Richard Hilliard for passing the 3,000-hour lifetime volunteering mark, and to Cliff Livermore for passing the 4,000-hour lifetime volunteering mark!  I only have 1,500 or so lifetime hours, because I'm busy with work and family and all that.  But I'm about 25 years younger than Cliff or Richard, so I might catch up someday. :)

And of course, there were group photos!  I foolishly stood next to a lamp, at the very left.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Congrats to this year's physics Nobel laureates!

"Dark Energy" co-discoverers Saul Perlmutter (of the Supernova Cosmology Project) and Brian Schmidt and Adam Reiss (of the High-Z Supernova Search) win the physics Nobel.

I've met Saul due to our shared involvement with UC-Berkeley, the Space Sciences Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley Labs, and the Nearby Supernova Factory collaboration.  I don't think I've met Brian.  I can't remember whether I've met Adam, but I've operated a telescope for his graduate student, Dan Scolnic.

I figured sooner or later the dark energy guys would get a Nobel, but I really expected it to take a couple more years.  Not bad for a bunch of guys in their 40s or early 50s.

Why I'm leaving Twitter.

I've stuck it out and continued participating on Twitter while Elon Musk has run it into the ground, made it progressively more inhospit...